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First lady recognizes W.Va. school for nutrition efforts

Courtesy photo
First-graders at North Elementary School, including Kylee Richie (left), A'nya Evans (second from left) and Brady Savage (center, gray shirt), measure and label the pumpkin sprouts from their garden. A group of students from the school will join first lady Michelle Obama at the White House later this week.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An elementary school in Morgantown is one of five schools across the country with students invited to the White House this week to share a nutritious meal with first lady Michelle Obama.A group of fifth-graders from North Elementary School will join students from Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia to celebrate an announcement from Obama about marketing healthier foods to America's children.The announcement comes on the heels of the first lady's call to decrease the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, and on Wednesday, the young students will join her and Sesame Street characters Elmo and Rosita for the annual fall harvest in the White House garden.North Elementary School was picked by the White House for its upkeep of an onsite garden and incorporation of the garden's produce into school meals; its partnership with the Morgantown farmers market; and a history of applying for grants that support health-conscience programs."I thought it was a prank phone call. She said she was the secretary for the first lady, and I thought, yeah right," North Elementary School Principal Natalie Webb said of the invitation she received from the White House earlier this month.Webb said her school's health movement started four years ago, when a grant from the Department of Agriculture allowed funding for a garden on the school's property, which soon sprouted some beans and radishes and strawberries.Teachers began using the garden to lead hands-on lessons, teaching math and science through the day's harvest.Parents volunteered to maintain the garden during the summer months, which led to healthier meals at home, and a kindergarten teacher at the school now operates a blog with recipes based on the school's harvest.
Now, morning announcements at the school not only include the day's lunch menu, but details about where the food came from in the state, and whether it came from the school's very own yard."Of course the kids want to eat lettuce if they know they grew it themselves," Webb said.North Elementary also recently applied for help from Americorps, and now has a full-time volunteer whose job is to maintain the school's gardens and promote better nutrition to students."It really evolved. Students started to garden at their homes, and families began telling us that because of what we were doing at school, the kids' eating habits were changing," Webb said. "We talk about the importance of a healthy diet a lot, and our teachers use the produce in their classrooms to teach students how to get proper nutrition."Schools across the state have been paying more attention to students' diets, as West Virginia tops most lists concerning childhood obesity.Earlier this month the West Virginia Department of Education celebrated the three-year anniversary of its Farm to School program by providing Kanawha County students with a spread made entirely from West Virginia-grown foods.Thirty of the state's 55 counties currently participate in the Farm to School initiative, which puts fresh, local produce into school cafeterias.
The first lady has pushed for better child nutrition in the U.S., implementing a "Let's Move" program that focuses on more physical activity in schools and combating childhood obesity.Webb and a group of five students leave for the White House on Tuesday, and Michelle Obama's announcement, made alongside the Produce Marketing Association and the Partnership for a Healthier America, is scheduled for 2:40 p.m. Wednesday. Reach Mackenzie Mays at or 304-348-4814.
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